I’ve always spoken out in favor of three-legged dogs and cats as wonderful, loving pets, whose lives can be full and whole in spite of their bodily incompleteness.

Generally speaking, they can still run, jump, and play like other members of their species. Their gait may be something of a lope and they may never win an agility contest, but these pets are certainly capable of leading otherwise normal lives.

Though some pets may be born with misshapen or missing limbs, the way most pets get to "tripod"-status is via amputation.

Amputations are necessary for a variety of reasons:

1. When a limb is so damaged that to repair it is impossible.

2. When the cost of repairing a limb is unaffordable (by the owner’s standards).

3. When to repair the limb causes more pain and stress for the patient than would life as an amputee.

4. When cancer begins to eat away at part of a leg and the likelihood of removing the entire tumor is in question.

Facing the need for an amputation seems to be the hardest part of the process for most owners. Not to say that amputation is ever something we, as vets, undertake lightly, but the need for it is often clear-cut (no pun here). Much more than in Kitten’s case, for example — that was a relatively difficult decision.

I find that when owners see a three-legged pet that looks similar to theirs, their hard-line, anti-amputation stance softens. They see a happy, healthy pet free of discomfort — and it allows them to picture their own.

Moreover, I always offer the following pros and cons to help with the decision-making process


1. A resolved condition for which the amputation was undertaken.

2. A special pet with few special needs.

3. A heartwarming story for all those who ask.

4. A source of inspiration for all of us.


1. Special attention must be paid to the other joints in the body, as they need to compensate for the others in a non-ergonomic way and are more at risk for arthritis in the future.

2. Dogs with pre-existing arthritis may be seriously hampered and need physical therapy and/or drug therapy to remain comfortable for the remainder of their lives.

3. The gross-out factor for the squeamish in the puppy park crowd and for your random houseguests.

Amputating a limb is never a fun process — it’s distasteful, even for those of us accustomed to the procedure. But the result — typically a bounding, comfortable pet — is well worth the psychological barriers.

For those of you needing more information on this, look no further than tripawds.com. There's more information on three-leggedness there than anywhere else. Happy reading.

Dr. Patty Khuly